The Titans' thinking about their pass rush is confusing

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Titans have not had an outstanding pass rusher for a long time.

They were a miserable pass rush team in 2019.

Edge has been an Achilles heel for the franchise for a good while, and certainly during the time Jon Robinson has overseen the team’s personnel.LandryCellyBillspool

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Both Robinson and Mike Vrabel tend to steer conversations about the pass rush away from personnel and from sacks to talk of how the entire defense can contribute to pressuring the passer. I think Vrabel doesn’t use the word sack unless he’s prompted.

In a Tuesday media session, I asked Robinson about that and after he talked about how much he desires such a guy, he hit on the idea that the Titans got some level of satisfying production out of their edge people. [Unlocked]

“We would love to have that guy, we want all of our players to be successful including the edge rush guys and we’re looking for those kinds of players and willing to invest resources,” Robinson said. “We tried to put a plan together last year with building the team and adding some players and there were some players that came on the team in free agency that bought in and were about what we were about and there were some it didn’t work, for a myriad of reasons.

“But I think that’s a position we’re definitely interested in and we would love to have a guy that commands double teams and gets two sacks. At the end of the day, the players are the ones that makes the plays and we’ve got to try to make as many as possible.”

They’ve got to re-evaluate how they evaluate, coach and scheme.

The hit rate has been very poor.

Robinson inherited Brian Orakpo and Derrick Morgan, good players who were not super productive but who look fantastic now.

He’s drafted edge players with five of his 35 picks.

  • Kevin Dodd, first pick in the second round in 2016, a bust
  • Harold Landry, second round in 2017, a starter who needs to be more productive
  • D’Andre Walker, fifth round in 2019, who never played a game for the team
  • Aaron Wallace, seventh round in 2016, one sack in 13 games
  • Josh Carraway, seventh round in 2017, one game

You don’t expect the seventh-rounders to hit, but he’s one for three and Dodd is his second-biggest bust given the current status of Isaiah Wilson.

He’s signed Jadeveon Clowney, Vic Beasley, Cameron Wake and Erik Walden.

Walden filled his role but the other three were disappointments, with Clowney and Wake suffering injuries that cut their one season short and Beasley under-scouted, showing up 10 days late to camp and offering minimal effort to the surprise of few who’d previously dealt with him.

“We’ve got production out of those positions,” Robinson said of 2020. “Harold’s a good player for us. Jadeveon did some good things for us last year before he got dinged with some disruptive plays, the statistical piece may not have gleamed. He was a disruptive player on the edge for us. Didn’t get a lot of run out of Vic, I’ve commented on that one in October or November, whenever we made that move.


“It's about effort, it’s about guys wanting to get to the quarterback, it’s about having some savvy and instincts when you’re rushing on that tackle. How is he set, what is that tackle doing to you, is he trying to just run you up the field? If that’s the case, then you’ve got to have a counter, how expansive is the player’s bag of tricks as a pass rusher?”

I love effort, desire, savvy and instincts.

I also love players like Derrick Henry, A.J. Brown and Taylor Lewan, who have those things and are physically good enough to simply line up and beat people.

The Titans are long overdue for something close to a physical wonder on the edge, or someone who is otherworldly in one of the categories Robinson speaks about. It’s been 22 years since Jevon Kearse’s arrival. It’s been 16 years since a whirling dervish of effort in Kyle Vanden Bosch arrived.

Mike Tomlin had a funny pre-game conversation with Chase Young in 2020, that sets up the problem when it comes to finding the sort of guy the Titans really need.

They were from different eras, but Kearse was the 16th pick, not the second. So high on the scrap heap was Vanden Bosch that he was signed as a favor to an agent.

“It’s got to be better, we’ve got to execute better,” Robinson said. “But I’m saying there are different ways to affect the QB and we’ve got to be better on the edge rush but I think there have been players who have been productive for us on the edge.”

apple icon 144x144 precomposed“Productive for us on the edge” -- Not close to productive enough. I hear that and it feels like pats on the head for a severely underachieving group. Who’s he reassuring there? The players? Fans? (They aren’t buying it.) Himself?

Yeah, Landry worked real hard and had some results with little help. But the whole offseason mission was to get his workload down and he played a ton and he a grand total of 5.5 sacks.

“There are different ways to affect the QB” – Well, we didn’t see much of those either. The easiest way is to go sack him. Pressure is certainly important too, but let’s not pretend there was a lot of that either.

Overall, Robinson and Vrabel have been a great duo.

Here is a big problem that needs solving. They are fairly going to be judged on who they bring in, how those players are coached up and deployed and what kind of impact they have on wins and losses.

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